Nutrition Column – Tips for Safe and Tasty Turkey Leftovers

Whether there are two people or 20 people at your Thanksgiving dinner, chances are there will be leftover turkey. And after cooking a big Thanksgiving feast and then doing all of the dishes, you may not feel like spending much more time in the kitchen.

What should you do? Plan ahead and save the leftover turkey to feed your family over the next few days. Because it is relatively mild in flavor, leftover turkey can be used in a wide variety of ways to make great tasting, easy-to-prepare meals.

To ensure safe quality leftovers, it is first important to package and store turkey correctly. Within two hours of cooking, slice or strip the meat from the carcass and remove any stuffing. Refrigerate the leftover turkey and stuffing separately in shallow containers with tight fitting lids. These will help prevent the turkey from drying out. After the meat and stuffing have been removed, the turkey carcass can also be wrapped and refrigerated to be used for making stock.

Leftover turkey should be used within three to four days or frozen in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil for use within six months. Refrigerated stuffing and gravy should be used within one to two days. When reheating turkey, reheat thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165? F or until hot and steaming throughout.

For simple, tasty ways to use your leftover turkey, try the following suggestions or use these ideas as an inspiration to create something original.

– Go the sandwich route. Use pocket bread to make a sandwich with leftover stuffing and cranberry sauce. Create a club sandwich with slices of toasted bread, turkey, lettuce, tomato, bacon and mayonnaise. Make an open-face turkey sandwich by layering warmed turkey, stuffing (or mashed potatoes) and gravy on top of a slice of bread.

– Make turkey soup. Use the carcass to make stock and then use the stock to make homemade soup. Or if you prefer a simpler method, buy canned chicken broth and add to it turkey, vegetables and noodles or rice. Another alternative is to cut turkey into bite-sized chunks and add it to your favorite pre-packaged vegetable soup.

– Create a salad. Cut turkey into chunks or strips and combine with leftover vegetables or add to leftover salad. Turkey can also be substituted for chicken in a Caesar salad. For an easy pasta salad, mix cooked pasta and chopped turkey with either a yogurt or mayonnaise-based dressing.

– Make a turkey potpie with leftover vegetables and gravy, or prepare a shepherd’s pie by layering turkey, vegetables and gravy under stuffing or mashed potatoes.  

– Make turkey tacos or burritos with black beans, cheese, guacamole and salsa.

– Substitute leftover turkey for the meat in your favorite casserole, pasta dish or stew-like dish, such as lasagna, tetrazzini, chili or curry.

– Try turkey hash. Pan-fry shredded turkey, leftover stuffing and gravy.

– Make stir-fry by combining turkey, garlic, ginger, bamboo shoots, julienne carrots, snow peas and soy sauce. Serve over cooked rice or pasta.

When it comes to turkey leftovers, the sky really is the limit. The key to avoiding turkey fatigue is variety, so be creative.

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension